Jason Brough

Toews says ‘everyone’s to blame’ for Blackhawks’ slide, but sees no reason for panic

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CHICAGO (AP) Just two short months ago, the Chicago Blackhawks were on top of the Western Conference and looked like a legitimate contender for an historic Stanley Cup title.

It’s a much different picture with 12 games left in the season.

The Blackhawks lost 5-0 to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night and have dropped four of five overall, including three in a row against potential playoff opponents. After a pair of road losses to St. Louis and Dallas, Chicago yielded a pair of goals in an 18-second span of the first period and never recovered against Los Angeles.

The defending NHL champions are 9-10-2 since they ripped off a franchise-record 12 straight wins at the end of December and into January.

“We’ve had a tougher schedule,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve had some tough games and I think during this stretch here our penalty killing hasn’t been great. Some nights they could have won us some games with getting the job done and giving up some timely goals that got their team going.

“But that was a stretch there that we really made a lot of hay and put ourselves in a great spot. Now we’re not taking advantage of it, which is disappointing.”

The slide has dropped Chicago (41-23-6) into third place in the tough Central Division. The Blues also lost Monday night and are tied with the Stars at 91 points apiece, followed by the Blackhawks at 88.

Chicago has a home game left against each of the division leaders, so there is plenty of time. But the standings are less important to the Blackhawks than their play heading into the postseason.

“It seems like for whatever reason, the season’s been up and down throughout the whole year,” forward Patrick Kane said. “You go on stretches where you win 12 in a row, and we’ve got this little stretch going right now. Obviously we want to shore that up before playoffs, and make sure we’re going in there feeling consistent about our game.”

The second line of Kane, Artem Anisimov and rookie Artemi Panarin has been one of the most dangerous groups in the league for most of the year. But it has fallen on hard times of late.

Kane, who leads the NHL with 89 points, has been held to one goal in his last five games. Panarin has been kept off the scoresheet in six of his last nine games. Anisimov has one goal and three assists in his last 14 appearances.

Quenneville tried Kane on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Andrew Ladd for a while against the Kings, but nothing worked against Jonathan Quick in his 41st career shutout.

“That four-line rotation we always talk about (that) makes us successful hasn’t been in place over this stretch,” Quenneville said.

Ladd returned to Chicago in one of a flurry of deals by the Blackhawks before the trade deadline, and some of their recent woes could be attributed to chemistry issues. Dale Weise‘s arrival was held up by a visa issue, and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has been in and out of the lineup.

Veteran forward Marian Hossa just returned last week after missing nine games because of a lower-body injury, adding another wrinkle to the lines and special teams. It could be a while before everyone gets used to each other.

“Collectively as a team, I think everyone’s to blame,” Toews said. “It’s a tough couple games, but we’ve seen that before. We’ve been through that before. We know not to overreact, start second-guessing ourselves and really letting that lack of confidence really creep into our minds.”

The Blackhawks finished last season with four consecutive losses, then went on to win the title. They dropped three of four during a March swoon in 2013 and hoisted the Cup that year, too.

The Kings lost to the Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals in 2013, and then eliminated Chicago at the same juncture in an epic seven-game series in 2014. Even with Chicago sputtering down the stretch, Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty said the playoff matchup could happen against this year.

“If you ask me, I could see them coming out of their side and going all the way to the conference finals and obviously that’s what we want to do, too,” Doughty said. “There’s a good chance we could meet up at some point and if we do it will be a fun series.”

Related: Hossa hoping things ‘click’ with Toews and Ladd

 

Sens sign QMJHL scoring sensation Perron

The Ottawa Senators have signed forward Francis Perron to a three-year entry-level contract, the club announced today.

If this is the first you’ve heard of Perron, don’t worry, you’re not alone. He was a seventh-round draft pick, 190th overall, in 2014. Back then, he was an unheralded 18-year-old forward who was coming off a 55-point season for Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL.

The next season, Perron finished with 76 points.

This season, he’s up to 107 points, and that’s in just 61 games. Only one other player in the Q has more points than Perron — Moncton’s Conor Garland, a fifth-round pick of the Coyotes in 2015.

Granted, we’ve seen older junior players rack up impressive point totals in the past. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bound for a career in the NHL. But for a seventh-rounder, Perron offers more hope than most.

NHL general managers discuss streamlining goalie equipment

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller, left, stops a shot by Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)
AP
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BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) Goaltending equipment was the hot topic Tuesday on the second day of the NHL general managers meetings, with the focus on making it smaller to increase scoring.

The league has tried for a decade to manage equipment, adjusting it proportionally to each goalie’s size. NHL goaltending consultant Kay Whitmore and executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said they want to clear up the gray area.

Whitmore said the plan is for manufacturers to have the more form-fitting equipment delivered to goaltenders in June so they have time to adapt before training camp. If agreed to by the NHL Players’ Association, it could be mandatory for the 2016 season.

Prout gets one-game suspension for punching ‘unsuspecting’ Kucherov

Prout
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Columbus defenseman Dalton Prout has been suspended one game for delivering a “forceful punch” to an “unsuspecting” Nikita Kucherov during Sunday’s Blue Jackets-Lightning game.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety noted in its explanation that Kucherov was not aware of Prout’s presence prior to the punch, and that it was not a case where two players were “squaring off in confrontation.”

“Kucherov has no reason to believe that a punch may be thrown by Prout,” said DoPS director Patrick Burke, adding that Prout’s actions were not an acceptable way of defending a teammate.

Here’s the full video explanation:

Corsi aside, the Bruins head to California on a roll

Boston Bruins' Tuukka Rask, right, and David Pastrnak celebrate after the Bruins defeated the New York Islanders 3-1 in an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
AP
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If Corsi were everything, the Toronto Maple Leafs wouldn’t be dead last in the standings and the Carolina Hurricanes would be Stanley Cup contenders.

Common sense tells us there’s more to the game of hockey than possessing the puck.

That being said, there’s an undeniably strong relation between teams with high puck-possession stats and teams that win more than they lose.

Which is also common sense, since it’s hard to score if you don’t have the puck first. 

So, what to make of the Boston Bruins? The B’s are 18-7-3 in their last 28 games, and they’ve taken over first place in the Atlantic Division. Yet, according to Puck On Net, their score-adjusted Corsi ranks in the bottom third of the league over that stretch.

It may explain why captain Zdeno Chara is happy with the results, but process-wise, he understands his team has room to improve.

“You want to keep getting points,” Chara told CSN New England. “You want to keep climbing up, but I think the main thing was that the focus was not, and still is not, necessarily how many points we’re going to have at the end of the night but what the performance is going to be like. [The focus] is how we’re going to be improving our game and really focusing on our effort and plays away from the puck, you know, along the boards, you know, winning the battles, races and so on. That’s been the main focus for us.”

Not surprisingly, goaltending has been a big key for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask, after a forgettable October and November, has seen his save percentage climb all the way to .919. In the last month and a bit, he’s won games where he’s faced shot totals of 38, 36, 42, 40, and 51.

Now, granted, an early Bruins lead was a factor in a lot of those games. Last Monday in Florida, they were up 4-1 on the Panthers before the contest was 20 minutes old. Naturally, they hung back in the second and third periods, eventually winning, 5-4, in overtime. That was the game Rask faced 51 shots.

Still, there’s a reason people are curious to see how the Bruins will fare in California. They’re at San Jose tonight, Anaheim Friday, and Los Angeles Saturday. In the aforementioned last 28 games, the Sharks, Ducks and Kings are all in the top five in score-adjusted Corsi. They’ve been winning a lot of games, too. 

“Obviously, I’m sure someone’s going to bring it up, but our record against those teams is not the greatest. They’re always tough buildings to play in, and tough games to play against,” said Rask, per CSN New England“We really have to bring our ‘A game’ in order to get some points out of the trip. It’s one of the most important times of the year and probably one of the biggest trips of the year. So we look forward to the challenge.”

Bruins since Jan. 15 (stats per war-on-ice.com)

Record: 18-7-3
5-on-5 shooting percentage: 8.9 (tied for fourth in NHL)
5-on-5 save percentage: .933 (fifth)
PDO: 102.2 (second)

Related: Rask upping his play along with Bruins teammates